From the first time I saw the name "Royal Unicorn" in the NW Karaoke Newsletter, I knew it was a bar I needed to check out. And I loved that it was on Richmond Beach Rd. I'm from Greenwood and that's like two neighborhoods away.
"Fuck, I'm old."
Last Friday I was fired up. It was the day after Springsteen's 61st birthday and I felt like celebrating so I decided to party with the good people of Shoreline. I spent most of my early years singing with Shoreline folk at the Peking Palace (R.I.P.) right on the city limits so I treated this as sort of a homecoming.
Anticipating a slow start, I decided to get there at 9:30--figuring the show started at nine. For some reason I didn't think it would be a Chinese restaurant, but a dive bar with a really cool name. I walked in the lounge entrance to a quiet room with three customers and no KJ. Karaoke didn't start until ten. It's always a bit uncomfortable coming into a place solo when it's that slow, but all it takes is a beer and a shot to fix that. I spotted their jukebox and immediately turned the place into my own.I punched in 40 minutes of music: all Boss of songs that jumped around his entire career. Their sound system is very good and I picked a great play list. A few more folks started filing in. At this point (aside from the bartender) I was the youngest person in the bar by about 18 years. I sat from my table monitoring the reactions in their faces as each new song came up. They seemed to be enjoying it, but I never got the sense that anyone had any previous connection with the Boss. It is crazy how nobody knows him around here. The bartender was great. She was the one person who called me out for the "Bruceathon." She asked me if he'd died or something.
The KJ was a friendly looking lady named Colette, and she reminded me of one of my buddy's moms. She started setting up just before ten. The thing that put my mind at ease and didn't make me want to bail the first moment I got there was their stage setup. It looked like a place that had a lot of karaoke history, and the topper was the organized shelf of catalogs separated by artist and song title available at all times. The karaoke slips are 4x5" and every singer's requests are filed away for future reference. The catalog isn't that big but it's easy to skim through. I'm now at the point where I like a smaller, more concise book.
Just before the show started, this short chubby guy in his early 40's with dark curly hair, a goatee and glasses dressed in baggy black pants, a black shirt, and a black jacket entered with a CD case full of his own karaoke discs. His name was Kevin. I though to myself, "I guess this was going to be my guy tonight," the guy who would motivate me to be creative with my song selection and sing my best. He seemed like a really nice guy, but was literally a karaoke geek.
KJ Colette kicked off the night with a nice rendition of "Unchained Melody." It was as pretty as my friend's mom would have sung it. Kevin followed and did "Radio Song" by R.E.M. I was super impressed; here is a guy that knows his stuff. I can't remember if I've ever seen anyone do that song and his voice was just right for it. Michael Stipe's voice isn't the hardest to sing, but a performer has to put forth something extra to capture the spirit of the song--and that is exactly what Kevin did.
An old timer got up and did "Another Day In Paradise," a Phil Collins number that is rarely sung seriously. This guy really sounded like he was trying to make us think about it. People were delivering good random stuff all night. During his performance the crowd's median age was split by half when a group of youngsters (that looked 21 going on 18) took over the bar. There were a couple babes with them so the place instantly turned into a scene.
I followed Phil with a song I'd wanted to sing since my night at Talarico's, "I Got a Name." I have loved Jim Croce since I was a little kid watching the "Munster's" and "Leave it to Beaver" on WTBS summer afternoons. It seemed like they played the ad for Croce's greatest hits during every commercial break. I thought this song would be a stand-up double, but it wound up being kind of tough. I was in tune, but it was not the voice I wanted to convey. I really wanted to capture Croce's style, but my attempt at twang was way off. Sometimes the simplest songs are the toughest to sing.
Kevin followed me with "Come On Eileen" and I saw that he tweaked the key. I don't ever see anyone mess with those settings. My belief is if you can't sing it in the key it was intended, don't sing it at all, but since Colette didn't change the key during the song I really couldn't tell the difference. He was able to hit all the notes, and sounded good singing them.
The young'ns delivered some good stuff. This skater/stoner Dax Sheppard-looking dude named Burger nailed "The Wrong Way" by Sublime. I'm not the biggest fan of that band but that is a tough song to sing. Then there was this dainty kid dressed in the style of circa 1982 Elvis Costello with a modified Flock of Seagulls haircut and black rim glasses. He looked like a cross between a new wave hipster and a gay Messy Marvin. His name was Quigley and he sang "1979" by Smashing Pumpkins. Some songs just give me a jolt from the moment I hear them and this is one of them. Singing Billy Corgan requires a certain amount of flamboyance and this guy had all that and more. He should take that act to the Hula Hula. They would love him there.
My last song of the night was "Jeopardy" by the Greg Kihn Band. When I saw it in the book I turned it in right away without realizing how insanely out of my range it would be until I took the stage. I looked down at Kevin with an expression that said this one is going to be rough and it was. I didn't even make it through the third verse without gasping for breath. I was literally tippy-toeing to reach the notes. Kevin tried to tell Colette to turn down the key but she didn't believe him at first and did not want to disrupt me. Eventually I told her to do it and it was amazing how I was instantly able to handle the song. All of the sudden it was easy and it didn't even sound that different. I can't believe I was so stubborn to never try that. This opens up a whole new world for me.